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Economic, Security Issues Top N. American Summit

U.S. President George W. Bush, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada conclude their summit talks Tuesday at a Canadian resort. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports they are focusing on economic and security issues.

They are looking for ways to make the North American Free Trade Agreement more efficient by facilitating the flow of goods and services across safe borders.

It is a matter of extreme economic importance. Canada is the United States biggest trading partner, and Mexico is not far behind. Energy exports - primarily oil - are paramount.

Regional experts, such as David Biette, say the stakes are high.

"It is important that we be able to get the things that we need as Americans in our stores and for our businesses easily and without a lot of worry that they are going to get stuck at the border," said David Biette.

Biette is the Director of the Canada Institute at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. He says the three leaders have to increase border security without creating obstacles to trade.

"It is working together, assessing risk and keeping the bad guys out and keeping good stuff going," he said. "And that works on the Canada-US border as well as the Mexico-US border. There is a lot of work to do there."

The White House says no major announcements are expected to emerge from this North America summit. U.S. officials say the goal is to give the three leaders an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to a prosperous and secure hemisphere.

They will do so under the auspices of the Security and Prosperity Partnership, or SPP, an initiative begun in 2005. Opponents on the left say the whole idea is merely a way to put more money in the pockets of big business, while those on the right fear it would lead to a European Union-style super-government in North America.

Armand Perschard, head of the Mexico program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says they are playing to the fears of people in all three countries.

"I tend to see that there is a nationalistic segment of society in all three countries that tend to be the globo-phobes of the three societies," said Armand Perschard. "They tend to look at the SPP negatively in a sense because they see the deepening integration of North America as something that would be counter-productive and something that would be an encroachment on the sovereignty of the three nations."

Thousands of protesters have vowed to disrupt the summit. Three-meter-high fences were erected around the grounds of the luxury resort housing the talks to keep them away.

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